Briefing: Protesting in Parliament Square

Protesting in Parliament Square and vicinity of Palace of Westminster

This is a short introduction to some of the key issues affecting protest in Parliament Square and the surrounding vicinity. Please note the police’s interpretation of some aspects of the legislation in recent times has not yet been tested in court. There have also been a range of protests in the area that have passed without arrests or charges. Lawyers and campaigners are also looking into challenging the lawfulness of the act, pointing to the UN general assembly’s report in June 2013 which raised concerns about the restrictions placed on protest in Parliament Square.

Recent legislation has prohibited certain activities within the following areas surrounding parliament:

  • Parliament Square Gardens (and the surrounding pathways);
  • Bridge Street (SW1)
  • St Margaret’s Street (SW1)
  • Abingdon Street (SW1)
  • Great College Street (SW1, that which adjoins Abingdon Street Gardens)
  • Old Palace Yard (including the King George V Memorial)
  • Abingdon Street Gardens (and its pathways);
  • Victoria Tower Gardens.

The activities specifically prohibited in these areas include:

Operating amplified noise equipmentthis has meant that protestors are prevented from using even very small amplifying devices, which can make it difficult for protests to be heard over the background noises.

  • This includes loudspeakers, loudhailers and any other device designed or adapted for amplifying sound.
  • The use of such equipment is only allowed if prior authorisation has been granted by the Greater London Authority.

Erecting, keeping erected or using a tent or other structure that is designed or adapted mainly to facilitate sleeping or staying in a place for any periodthis is mainly aimed at preventing protestors from sleeping overnight but is worded in a very general way.

  • This is specific to Parliament Square; not affecting other areas.
  • During recent protests the police have interpreted this very widely, to include tarpaulin which is being used to sit on during protests
  • There has been no court judgment to date to confirm whether or not this is a correct interpretation of the legislation
  • Home Office guidance states that “these provisions require authorised officers to use their professional judgement and a degree of discretion in deciding what may constitute structures designed or adapted for the purpose of facilitation of sleeping or staying in a place for any period, on a case-by-case basis.”

 Placing, keeping in place or using any sleeping equipment

  • Again, this is specific to Parliament Square, and is aimed at stopping protestors from sleeping in parliament square overnight.
  • It includes sleeping bags, mattresses or other similar item designed, or adapted, for the purpose of facilitating sleeping in a place.

The specific local regulations can be enforced by police officers and “authorised officers” of the Greater London Authority and Westminster City Council

  • An “authorised officer” can be either an employee of the GLA or Council, or a person who is authorised by them to carry out this role. The GLA is responsible for the square itself, and the Council for the footways.
  • Before arresting you for a breach of any of these provisions, the police officer or “authorised officer” must first direct you to remove prohibited items or stop using amplification equipment, and give you a chance to comply.
  • The officer can also give a direction that you do not start doing that activity again, having stopped it, for a period of up to 90 days.
  • If you are convicted of failing to comply with such a direction, the maximum penalty is a fine of up to £5,000. The court also has the following powers:
    • To order that an item used in committing the offence be surrendered
    • To make other orders to prevent you from engaging in prohibited activities in Parliament Square (in theory this could include banning you from the square for a specified period, but this is likely to be difficult to justify in many cases)
  • Officers also have power to seize items that are being used for any of the prohibited activities, or where a person has not complied with a direction to stop a prohibited activity. When carrying out a seizure:
    • A police officer is entitled to use “reasonable force” if necessary
    • An “authorised officer” from the GLA or Council is not allowed to use reasonable force
  • Seized items should be returned within 28 days if there are no court proceedings. Otherwise, they should be returned at the end of the court case, unless the court orders them to be forfeited.

Local laws called “byelaws” also affect the Parliament Square Garden area.

  • These byelaws make it necessary to obtain written permission from the Mayor in order to carry out a number of activities, including:
    • Holding an assembly or rally in the square
    • Playing a musical instrument
    • Attaching a banners or article to, or climbing or interfering with, items such as trees, railings, fences and statues
    • Collecting money
    • Making a speech
  • They also prohibit further activities, such as lighting a fire or a barbecue and feeding birds, and make it an offence not to leave the square if an “authorised person” reasonably directs you to do so or to obstruct them in performing their duties 
  • These byelaws can be enforced by any “authorised person” which includes those working on behalf of the Greater London Authority, the Deputy Mayor and any local authority. This includes the GLA “Heritage Wardens”
  • Authorised officers have the power to take your name and address if they reasonably believe that you have breached one or more of the bye laws.
  • The authorised officers do not have powers of seizure in relation to the above matters. This power only extends to breach of trading bye laws.
  • The maximum penalty for breaking these bye laws is a fine of £200 (or £1,000 in the case of bye laws to prevent unauthorised trading)

Please note: This is intended as a general information sheet to summarise some key issues arising from protest in parliament square. It should not be taken to constitute legal advice and you should contact a solicitor if you need advice on a criminal case against you or a potential civil claim.

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